Monday, June 13, 2011

There will never be an end to it

the white shirt

Now in his 80s, John Ashbery has undertaken a translation of Les Illuminations of Arthur Rimbaud, discussed in last Sunday's book review. I have, deeply, never been drawn to inquire into Rimbaud, for the reason I'm usually put off by anything, the white shirt aside - an intense popularity; but in Rimbaud there was always the additional disincentive of an impracticable affectation in his privileged admirers. Rimbaud was not about a beautiful life. It's possible to respect inspiration and craft in a work without caring for it - patronising as that sounds, it isn't meant that way - but it isn't possible to do justice to it as a translator, on such a meagre appetite. And one would be a translator in Rimbaud's case, gauging his work alongside anyone else's gloss.

Now Ashbery changes all that, it's certain. I understand from my bookseller, that the French is given on facing pages, and this is all one could want, to assay this extraordinary and possibly his-toric literary encounter. It sets aside expectations completely, except acute excitement, to anticipate the confrontations combined in this new project.

It has the éclat of the white shirt, the hush of illumination.


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